In a dramatic development that renewed hopes of a peaceful end to protests that have now entered their third week, Army Chief General Raheel Sharif met with Imran Khan and Dr Tahirul Qadri late Thursday night after he agreed to act as guarantor for a deal between the embattled government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT).
The unexpected intervention by Pakistan’s military comes after government efforts to resolve the crisis failed, threatening to engulf the country deeper into political quagmire.
According to sources, the Prime Minister requested the Army Chief to act as a guarantor and mediator to facilitate the development of a formula that can end the lingering political deadlock caused by prolonged sit-ins by thousands of charged PTI and PAT supporters in the heart of the federal capital.
The decision came after the Army Chief met the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif earlier, their second one-on-one meeting in three days, and requested the government to renew dialogue with protestors and make all-out efforts to amicably resolve all outstanding issues.
A senior military official said the Army Chief accepted the role in national interest. He also said this showed that ‘the Army chief commands respect across the board.’
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said the Army Chief had made it clear from day one that the military had no intention to resort to any unconstitutional step and had been urging all sides to resolve the issue through dialogue ever since the crises began.
Meanwhile, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan confirmed that the Army chief had been asked to play a role in solving the current political crisis.
“This is our own army and it can be asked for help in a difficult situation,” Nisar said in a statement.
He said the government tried to solve the problem at every level but both the protesting parties were not ready to trust the government. “And therefore the government had to appeal the army to play its role,” he added.
Immediately after the announcement, both Imran Khan and Qadri left the Constitution Avenue for General Headquarters for talks with Army Chief General Raheel.
The PTI chief Imran Khan and the PAT head Dr Tahirul Qadri held separate one-on-one meetings with the army chief followed by joint talks. Sources said Qadri and Khan presented their respective lists of demands to General Raheel.
After his meeting, Imran Khan told his supporters that he had conveyed to the army chief that in the presence of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif no impartial inquiry into allegations of mass rigging was possible.
“At the request of Gen Raheel, another round of talks will be held with the PML-N government. In case the government does not accept our demand, then we will go on with our next line of action,” he said. A government official said the Prime Minister had mandated the Army Chief to negotiate a deal with Khan and Qadri on his behalf. However, the official claimed that the Prime Minister would not resign, although he would accept all other demands made by both the leaders.
According to INP, after his meeting with the General Raheel Sharif, the premier presided over a high level meeting of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in which the party leadership decided not to accept any ‘unconstitutional’ or ‘undemocratic’ step. It was also decided that both the premier and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif would not hand in their resignations.
Military sources, meanwhile, disclosed that the Army would push for a ‘middle ground’ and a solution that would be acceptable to all parties. Sources added that a breakthrough is expected within the next 24 hours.
24 Hours Extension
Having given deadlines for announcing their future course of action, PTI and PAT supporters were anxiously awaiting their leaders on Thursday evening when Dr Tahirul Qadri took to the stage and announced that he had delayed his final speech by 24 hours.
Terming it a “historic moment,” Dr Tahirul Qadri took his supporters into confidence and announced that General Raheel had advised PAT to “show restraint for 24 hours” so that a formula could be worked out for the betterment of the country.
Qadri claimed that this formula would include PAT’s revolutionary package, investigation of election rigging, and justice for martyrs of the Model Town tragedy. Qadri claimed that the army chief had also guaranteed that if rigging was proven, the government would be dismissed.
Similarly, moments later, PTI chairman Imran Khan also agreed to give the army 24 hours, which stepped in to resolve the crisis on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s request. “We have received a message from the army, which will play its role in meeting our demands,” said Imran Khan. “We will talk and present our demands. Don’t worry, your captain will not disappoint you. Tomorrow we will either celebrate Azadi (freedom), or I will give the call that I was supposed to give today,” he added.
Qadri rejects FIR
Earlier, moments after the FIR was registered for the Model Town incident, Dr Tahirul Qadri refused to accept it until it included Section 788 of the Anti-Terrorism Act and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s name. “We will not accept the FIR until it is registered as per our application,” he said, while addressing his supporters.
Initially, the PAT leader refused to believe that the FIR had been registered at all. However, as the chief paused for the call to prayer, PAT leader Raheeq Abbasi appeared on stage with a copy of the FIR sent for Qadri’s perusal. The PAT chief read it and pointed out that it was not in accordance with their demands.
Carrying a copy of the Constitution, he mentioned those provisions that guarantee fundamental rights of the citizen and obligations of the state.
After elaborating every single provision that dealt with rights, Qadri said, “The state is responsible for the wellbeing of the people without any discrimination but this has not happened at all. The Constitution is a cheque signed by founder of the nation and we have come to encash it,” he added.
Recounting how his followers had achieved so much in the last 14 days, since the “Inqilab” march and sit-in began, he asked his supporters to get ready for the final act and to remain steadfast as they were about to reach their destination.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 29th, 2014.
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